Roundtable on Housing and Ageing

Thank you to those who participated in our Roundtable on Housing and Ageing last Friday, and thanks to The Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation for hosting us.

The discussion brought together leaders in housing, ageing, social welfare, academia, and was an opportunity to consider the recommendations put forward in Emily Millane’s recent report on housing and ageing, The Head, The Head & The House, and to flesh out ideas for moving these recommendations forward.

Emily outlined the basic premise of her report: that we need to radically rethink housing policy.  We tend to look at the house as an asset, and our policies are shaped by this thinking.  But the research shows that the house is about more than a financial asset.  People think of their homes in terms of their neighbours, their garden, their own space.  As Emily pointed out, policies need to address the heart as well as the head.

Three main themes emerged from the discussion:

  • That there is no “silver bullet” response to address the issues of housing and the aged. The rate of home ownership at retirement is declining, and the lack of security in private rental is a major problem for all marginalised groups, but has particular implications for the aged.  An integrated response with many moving parts is required, as it goes across federal and state governments, has local planning and zoning implications.  A complex package needs to happen together.
  • Advocacy in this area needs to have an emphasis on storytelling.  The issue needs to be about people and their stories (the heart), not just the nuts and bolts of the policy (the head).  We need to encourage more people to plan for their future, and to make it about young people as well.
  • The use of language needs to be considered in this area, to make sure discussions are not boxed in by stereotypes or misunderstandings.  For example the issue of “downsizing” comes up a lot in this debate, but it is more appropriate to think in terms of “rightsizing”  Not all older people want to move to smaller places, they might have an office for home and want space for their grandchildren, so an over-emphasis on this aspect in policy terms is misguided.  The term “affordable housing” is also used a lot in policy debates in this area, but means a lot of things to different people.  Often this term carries negative connotations and people don’t want “affordable housing” in their own neighbourhood.  A better way to think about this issue is to talk about “inclusive housing”, to take a whole-of-neighourhood approach.

With a narrative from the government this year on intergenerational theft, we need to look seriously at the social challenges of increasing longevity.  Per Capita’s work on longevity and positive ageing is at the forefront of developing real policy alternatives for a whole-of-society response to this demographic shift.